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December 28, 2007

Karl Marx

Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818 – March 14, 1883) was a 19th century philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary. Marx addressed a wide range of political as well as social issues; he is most famous for his analysis of history, summed up in the opening line of the Communist Manifesto (1848): “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. Marx believed that capitalism will be displaced by communism, a classless society after a transitional period of radical socialism during which the state would be nothing else but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.[1][2]

Often called the father of communism, Marx was both a scholar and a political activist. He argued that his analysis of capitalism revealed that the contradictions within capitalism would bring about its own end, giving way to communism:

The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.
On the other hand, Marx wrote that capitalism would end through the organized actions of an international working class: "Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence." (from The German Ideology)

While Marx was a relatively obscure figure in his own lifetime, his ideas began to exert a major influence on workers' movements shortly after his death. This influence was given added impetus by the victory of the Marxist Bolsheviks in the Russian October Revolution, and there are few parts of the world which were not significantly touched by Marxian ideas in the course of the twentieth century. The relation of Marx to "Marxism" is a point of controversy. Marxism remains influential and controversial in academic and political circles. In his book "Marx's 'Das Kapital'" (2006), biographer Francis Wheen reiterates David McLellan's observation that since Marxism had not triumphed in the West, "it had not been turned into an official ideology and is thus the object of serious study unimpeded by government controls."


Karl Heinrich Marx was born the third of seven children of a Jewish family in Trier, in the Kingdom of Prussia's Province of the Lower Rhine. His father Heinrich (1777–1838), who had descended from a long line of rabbis, converted to Christianity, despite his many deistic tendencies and his admiration of such Enlightenment figures as Voltaire and Rousseau. Marx's father was actually born Herschel Mordechai, but when the Prussian authorities would not allow him to continue practicing law as a Jew, he joined the official denomination of the Prussian state, Lutheranism, which accorded him advantages, as one of a small minority of Lutherans in a predominantly Roman Catholic region. His mother was Henrietta (née Presborck; 1788–1863); his siblings were Sophie, Hermann, Henriette, Louise (m. Juta), Emilie and Caroline.


Marx was educated at home until the age of thirteen. After graduating from the Trier Gymnasium, Marx enrolled in the University of Bonn in 1835 at the age of seventeen to study law, where he joined the Trier Tavern Club drinking society and at one point served as its president; his grades suffered as a result. Marx was interested in studying philosophy and literature, but his father would not allow it because he did not believe that his son would be able to comfortably support himself in the future as a scholar. The following year, his father forced him to transfer to the far more serious and academically oriented Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin. During this period, Marx wrote many poems and essays concerning life, using the theological language acquired from his liberal, deistic father, such as "the Deity," but also absorbed the atheistic philosophy of the Young Hegelians who were prominent in Berlin at the time. Marx earned a doctorate in 1841 with a thesis titled The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, but he had to submit his dissertation to the University of Jena as he was warned that his reputation among the faculty as a Young Hegelian radical would lead to a poor reception in Berlin.

Marx and the Young Hegelians

The Left, or Young Hegelians, consisted of a group of philosophers and journalists circling around Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer opposing their teacher Hegel. Despite their criticism of Hegel's metaphysical assumptions, they made use of Hegel's dialectical method, separated from its theological content, as a powerful weapon for the critique of established religion and politics. Some members of this circle drew an analogy between post-Aristotelian philosophy and post-Hegelian philosophy. One of them, Max Stirner, turned critically against both Feuerbach and Bauer in his book "Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum" (1845, The Ego and Its Own), calling these atheists "pious people" for their reification of abstract concepts. Marx, at that time a follower of Feuerbach, was deeply impressed by the work and abandoned Feuerbachian materialism and accomplished what recent authors have denoted as an "epistemological break." He developed the basic concept of historical materialism against Stirner in his book "Die Deutsche Ideologie" (1846, The German Ideology), which he did not publish.[3] Another link to the Young Hegelians was Moses Hess, with whom Marx eventually disagreed, yet to whom he owed many of his insights into the relationship between state, society and religion.

Towards the end of October 1843, Marx arrived in Paris, France. There, on August 28, 1844, at the Café de la Régence on the Place du Palais he began the most important friendship of his life, and one of the most important in history – he met Friedrich Engels. Engels had come to Paris specifically to see Marx, whom he had met only briefly at the office of the Rheinische Zeitung in 1842.[4] He came to show Marx what would turn out to be perhaps Engels' greatest work, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.[5] Paris at this time was the home and headquarters to armies of German, British, Polish, and Italian revolutionaries. Marx, for his part, had come to Paris to work with Arnold Ruge, another revolutionary from Germany, on the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher .[6]

After the failure of the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, Marx, living on the Rue Vaneau, wrote for the most radical of all German newspapers in Paris, indeed in Europe, the Vorwärts, established and run by the secret society called League of the Just. Marx's topics were generally on the Jewish question and Hegel. When not writing, Marx studied the history of the French Revolution and read Proudhon.[7] He also spent considerable time studying a side of life he had never been acquainted with before – a large urban proletariat.

[Hitherto exposed mainly to university towns...] Marx's sudden espousal of the proletarian cause can be directly attributed (as can that of other early German communists such as Weitling[8]) to his first hand contacts with socialist intellectuals [and books] in France.[9]

He re-evaluated his relationship with the Young Hegelians, and as a reply to Bauer's atheism wrote On the Jewish Question. This essay was mostly a critique of current notions of civil and human rights and political emancipation, which also included several critical references to Judaism as well as Christianity from a standpoint of social emancipation. Engels, a committed communist, kindled Marx's interest in the situation of the working class and guided Marx's interest in economics. Marx became a communist and set down his views in a series of writings known as the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, which remained unpublished until the 1930s. In the Manuscripts, Marx outlined a humanist conception of communism, influenced by the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach and based on a contrast between the alienated nature of labor under capitalism and a communist society in which human beings freely developed their nature in cooperative production.

In January 1845, after the Vorwärts expressed its hearty approval regarding the assassination attempt on the life of Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, Marx, among many others, were ordered to leave Paris. He and Engels moved on to Brussels, Belgium.

Marx devoted himself to an intensive study of history and elaborated on his idea of historical materialism, particularly in a manuscript (published posthumously as The German Ideology), the basic thesis of which was that "the nature of individuals depends on the material conditions determining their production." Marx traced the history of the various modes of production and predicted the collapse of the present one—industrial capitalism—and its replacement by communism. This was the first major work of what scholars consider to be his later phase, abandoning the Feuerbach-influenced humanism of his earlier work.

Next, Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), a response to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's The Philosophy of Poverty and a critique of French socialist thought. These works laid the foundation for Marx and Engels' most famous work, The Communist Manifesto, first published on February 21, 1848, as the manifesto of the Communist League, a small group of European communists who had come to be influenced by Marx and Engels.

Later that year, Europe experienced tremendous revolutionary upheaval. Marx was arrested and expelled from Belgium; in the meantime a radical movement had seized power from King Louis Philippe in France, and invited Marx to return to Paris, where he witnessed the revolutionary June Insurrection (Revolutions of 1848 in France) first hand.

When this collapsed in 1849, Marx moved back to Cologne and started the Neue Rheinische Zeitung ("New Rhenish Newspaper"). During its existence he was put on trial twice, on February 7, 1849 because of a press misdemeanor, and on the 8th charged with incitement to armed rebellion. Both times he was acquitted. The paper was soon suppressed and Marx returned to Paris, but was forced out again. This time he sought refuge in London.


Marx moved to London in May 1849, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He briefly worked as correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune in 1851.[10] In 1855, the Marx family suffered a blow with the death of their son, Edgar, from tuberculosis.[11] Meanwhile, Marx's major work on political economy made slow progress. By 1857 he had produced a gigantic 800 page manuscript on capital, landed property, wage labour, the state, foreign trade and the world market. This work however was not published until 1941, under the title Grundrisse. In the early 1860s he worked on composing three large volumes, the Theories of Surplus Value, which discussed the theoreticians of political economy, particularly Adam Smith and David Ricardo. This work, that was published posthumously under the editorship of Karl Kautsky is often seen as the Fourth book of Capital, and constitutes one of the first comprehensive treatises on the history of economic thought. In 1867, well behind schedule, the first volume of Capital was published, a work which analyzed the capitalist process of production. Here, Marx elaborated his labor theory of value and his conception of surplus value and exploitation which he argued would ultimately lead to a falling rate of profit and the collapse of industrial capitalism. Volumes II and III remained mere manuscripts upon which Marx continued to work for the rest of his life and were published posthumously by Engels. In 1859, Marx was able to publish Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, his first serious economic work. In his journalistic work of this period, Marx championed the Union cause in the American Civil War.

One reason why Marx was so slow to publish Capital was that he was devoting his time and energy to the First International, to whose General Council he was elected at its inception in 1864. He was particularly active in preparing for the annual Congresses of the International and leading the struggle against the anarchist wing led by Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876). Although Marx won this contest, the transfer of the seat of the General Council from London to New York in 1872, which Marx supported, led to the decline of the International. The most important political event during the existence of the International was the Paris Commune of 1871 when the citizens of Paris rebelled against their government and held the city for two months. On the bloody suppression of this rebellion, Marx wrote one of his most famous pamphlets, The Civil War in France, an enthusiastic defense of the Commune.

During the last decade of his life, Marx's health declined and he was incapable of the sustained effort that had characterized his previous work. He did manage to comment substantially on contemporary politics, particularly in Germany and Russia. In Germany, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, he opposed the tendency of his followers Wilhelm Liebknecht (1826–1900) and August Bebel (1840–1913) to compromise with the state socialism of Ferdinand Lassalle in the interests of a united socialist party. In his correspondence with Vera Zasulich, Marx contemplated the possibility of Russia's bypassing the capitalist stage of development and building communism on the basis of the common ownership of land characteristic of the village Mir.

Family life

Marx in 1882.
Karl Marx was married to Jenny von Westphalen, the educated daughter of a Prussian baron. Karl Marx's engagement to her was kept secret at first, and for several years was opposed by both the Marxes and Westphalens. Despite the objections, the two were married on June 19, 1843 in Kreuznacher Pauluskirche, Bad Kreuznach.

During the first half of the 1850s the Marx family lived in poverty and constant fear of creditors in a three room flat on Dean Street in the Soho quarter of London. Marx and Jenny already had four children and three more were to follow. Of these only three survived to adulthood. Marx's major source of income at this time was Engels, who was drawing a steadily increasing income from the family business in Manchester. This was supplemented by weekly articles written as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. Inheritances from one of Jenny's uncles and her mother who died in 1856 allowed the family to move to somewhat more salubrious lodgings at 9 Grafton Terrace, Kentish Town a new suburb on the then-outskirts of London. Marx generally lived a hand-to-mouth existence, forever at the limits of his resources, although this did extend to some spending on relatively bourgeois luxuries, which he felt were necessities for his wife and children given their social status and the mores of the time.

There is a disputed rumour that Marx was the father of Frederick Demuth, the son of Marx's housekeeper, Lenchen Demuth. It has been suggested that this rumour lacks any direct corroboration.[12]

Marx's children by his wife were: Jenny Caroline (m. Longuet; 1844–1883); Jenny Laura (m. Lafargue; 1846–1911); Edgar (1847–1855); Henry Edward Guy ("Guido"; 1849–1850); Jenny Eveline Frances ("Franziska"; 1851–1852); Jenny Julia Eleanor (1855–1898); and one more who died before being named (July 1857).

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